Elephants, Transparency, and Action

Marion voters on May 3 met the candidates for the 2018 Annual Town Election during the League of Women Voters annual candidates’ night at the Marion Music Hall.

Two races are contested this year – one for a seat on the Board of Assessors with an emphasis on transparency, and the other for a seat on the Board of Selectmen for a one-year term determined by which of the four candidates will take action instead of ‘kicking the can further down the road.’

Current assessor Ray Pickles faces opposition this year from former assessor George “TJ” Walker who didn’t hold back on Thursday night when it came to addressing matters of transparency and the proverbial “elephant in the room.”

“I was surprised that the elephant in the room wasn’t addressed,” said Walker during his closing remarks.

Walker was referring to the January firing of Pickles as the executive director of the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District for mismanagement. The CMWRRDD Committee and the three towns’ town administrators are still struggling to piece together five years of missing financial records and no annual audits since 2012.

“It’s a real issue,” said Walker.

In addition to the CMWRRDD controversy, Walker said he recently requested information from the Town Clerk’s Office – Pickles has been the town clerk since 2006 – including the registered voting list dating back three to five years, saying the Town Clerk’s Office imposed a $100 fee, and records dating further back would cost $500. Walker said he went to the town administrator who said those fees were inappropriate.

“These things happen … people trying to shade things, and I think it’s wrong,” Walker said. “And it’s no big secret that the district attorney is investigating…. I think it reflects poorly on all of us…”

Pickles ignored Walker’s allegations during his own closing remarks, saying only, “I’ve enjoyed the job as assessor; I believe that the assessors’ office is … run very smoothly. We have little controversy, and I have enjoyed it immensely.” He added that the current Board of Assessors has “done well for many years.”

There were residents who also questioned the transparency of the Assessors’ Office, including Allan Ditchfield who explored the availability of the minutes of the assessors’ weekly meetings. Pickles said minutes are kept in the Assessors’ Office and the public is allowed to request them. Ditchfield asked if the minutes are ever published, to which Pickles replied, “No.”

“I don’t see the reason why the Town should publish the minutes from the assessors’ meetings,” said Pickles, adding that the minutes are also filed in the Town Clerk’s Office.

The topic of the three-year reevaluation was brought up, along with the Assessors’ Office relying on an outside firm to perform the assessments of residents’ properties and the cost.

Walker said the cost to hire assessment contractor Vision Government Solutions is $38,400, adding, “…And we’re (the Board of Assessors) doing less and less of the work ourselves.” He said there is an active contract for $38,000 with Vision that was dated 2017, but questioned the validity of the contract that was executed by Pickles as chairman of the board. Walker said the contract he viewed was not signed by town counsel or the contractor.

“So I don’t know if we have a contract or not,” Walker said.

“The answer is yes, we have a contract,” said Pickles.

Walker later stated that as he was doing his “homework” for the election, some records he requested were not “available,” adding, “I think we can do a better job.”

Pickles was Marion’s town administrator from 1972 until he retired in 2005. Since then, he has served as the town clerk and assessor, for which he is currently certified.

“I’d appreciate your vote for assessor,” said Pickles.

Walker has a law degree, and he has served for one term as an assessor and three terms on the Planning Board.

“I am certified, I’ve passed all the course work and examinations, and I can start on day one,” Walker said.

For the Board of Selectmen, Randy Parker is the only candidate running for the open three-year term seat, while four vie for the remaining one year of Steve Gonsalves’ term after he resigned in February. Each candidate had three minutes for an opening statement followed by questions from the public.

Parker has lived in Marion most of his life, operates his own business in town, and currently serves on the Marion Open Space Acquisition Commission. He said he understands that personalities and points of view may differ, but he is confident he can work as a team member to achieve common goals on the board.

“I’m a ‘salt of the earth’ type of person,” Parker said. “I’m able to approach matters with common sense and an open mind,” and added that he has a strong work ethic, is fiscally conservative, and all for full disclosure. “I assure you that no stone will be left unturned … and attention to detail will be crucial and vital as the board faces new and complicated issues ahead.”

For his three minutes, one-year term candidate William “Dale” Jones placed his emphasis on his education, career, boards and committees he’s served on, and his volunteer work and accomplishments, saying that he had a degree from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, was an engineering officer for the Merchant Marine, and worked for Raytheon as an engineer.

Michelle Ouellette Smith is a special education teacher and currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals, Marion School Committee, and ORR School Committee.

“The same issues are still haunting our town,” said Smith, including the Town House, union contract negotiations, sidewalks, roads, and sluggish small business growth. “Decisions must be based on sound judgment…. I am the candidate that will move us forward…”

John Waterman said, “Why am I running for this position? I bring the skillset to the position … not offered by the other candidates.”

“I will make an effort to get along and work with everyone…. I don’t think you get anywhere if you don’t … work closely as a team.”

As a financial analyst, Waterman said he’s familiar with the financial implications of the wastewater treatment facilities and other money matters facing the town. He said he would donate his selectmen’s salary to the Marion fireworks fund each each year he is on the board, eliciting applause.

Joseph Zora went right into the issues, saying, “I think the Town House should be preserved…” but said, “The biggest, scariest thing in this community is our wastewater treatment facility.” He opposes connecting residents of Aucoot Cove and Mattapoisett and is against regionalizing sewer service because of the high costs, $6.8 million and $40 million, respectively, according to Zora. Zora had trouble keeping within time allotted, and several times continued his diatribes beyond the time limit.

Waterman said he wrote a piece on wastewater and suggested looking at failed septic systems in addition to the treatment plant for nitrogen pollution. “It has to be a much broader, more comprehensive approach.”

Ouellette agreed, and added, “We have to really figure out a plan now because every day that we don’t have a plan costs us more and more money down the road.”

“I worked with the EPA, the DEP,” said Jones, “…I know I can work with them really well. I know we can solve the problems we have in the town.”

Parker, who joined the panel although he is running unopposed, said all the details are spelled out in the Order of Conditions the Town has already been issued. “It has to be taken care of.”

“If we ignore everything else but just talk about the water,” said Ouellette. “Stop talking about everything, it’s time to fix it and move forward…. We need to do something about it now before [the town] crumbles around us.”

Jones said he opposed regionalizing the sewer service. “The cost is going to be increased and we lose all control of what were doing…. If they set their rates way up, then were gonna have to deal with that.”

Waterman said, “It would be nice as a town if we could afford to do everything we want to do. We can’t.” With a $6.9 million Town House renovation and an added $3.6 million in interest, according to Waterman, debt will be increased to 41percent.

“We better get started in these things,” said Parker, but which ones and how the town spreads them out, he didn’t know. “We’ve got to get some projects squared away.”

Resident Bob Raymond thought the Town has a habit of “kicking the can down the road,” for example, for 50 years the Town House was not maintained. “Now we have a big problem,” he said.

Jones thought it’s human nature to keep kicking the can. “Everybody loves spending somebody else’s money; we have to control that… And I’ll work day and night to make sure that it’s done properly.”

Parker said he checked The Wanderer and for the past five years and the same issues were still being discussed that night. He beseeched the Finance Committee, saying, “Please allow us to get some things done…. I really want to get something done for you and for the taxpayers and for the future of Marion.”

The last point the panel discussed was multiple positions – all candidates said they would resign from their current elected and appointed positions and serve only as selectman – except Jones, who said he would keep his position as deputy of Emergency Management.

Ouellette, who is also running for School Committee unopposed, said she would resign from the School Committee and the ZBA.

In closing, it was Zora who elicited the laughter when he said, “I will make my voice known and if I get voted down I can move on. I’m not a bad guy, I’m just fed up.”

The following candidates are running unopposed: Planning Board (two seats) Andrew Daniel and Kristen Saint Don-Campbell; Board of Health incumbent John Howard; Town Moderator incumbent Brad Gordon; Open Space Acquisition Commission Alan Harris; and Marion School Committee (two seats) incumbent Michelle Ouellette Smith and April Rios. There are no ORR School Committee candidates.

Marion’s Annual Town Election is Friday, May 18. Polls at the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center, 465 Mill Street, are open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.

By Jean Perry


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